After I wrote last month’s article, I started thinking about a television show I was on last year. The show was Johnette Benkovic’s The Abundant Life, and the topic was Catholic single life.
During the program, Johnette and I were talking about the need for single Catholics to “shift their center.” As I said last month, we singles have a tendency to make “finding a spouse” the center of our lives. And that’s no way to live. It’s frustrating, and it causes us to miss out on great experiences that God has for us, just because we have determined that those particular experiences don’t afford us sufficient opportunity to meet eligible members of the opposite sex.
Today, I want to focus on the next step: why “shifting our center” helps us in the next phase of the journey, when we’re actually dating.
To singles whose lives are completely centered around meeting and marrying, “finding someone” is the holy grail. It’s Mecca. It’s the fulfillment of their dreams, the goal toward which they have put so much of their energy. It’s what’s going to bring them happiness. And so once they have found that someone, or think they may have found that someone, where do you suppose all of their energy is going to go?
It’s going to go towards that someone.
Problem is, that kind of attitude isn’t really conducive to a healthy relationship. And it’s bound to disappoint.
I don’t know about you, but when I started high school, I was definitely in a “centered around meeting someone” phase. Not necessarily to marry, what with being 15 and all. But to have a boyfriend, which was at that time the epitome of high school status symbols. I thought, “If I only had a boyfriend, I’d be happy.”
And then I acquired a boyfriend. And then I started thinking, “If I only had a different boyfriend, I’d be happy.”
Oddly, having a boyfriend didn’t suddenly make my life complete. On the contrary, it complicated matters significantly. He wasn’t Prince Charming on a white horse. He was a typical teenaged boy with a typical set of teenaged boy issues. And I hadn’t signed on for that.
We’re all theoretically a little more mature than we were in high school, but sometimes that “desire to be paired up” gene overwhelms our hard-won maturity. We’re dissatisfied with our lives, and we start looking for someone wonderful to come in and rescue us.
But what does that look like in real life?
First of all, it’s a lot of pressure to put on someone who really just wants to get to know you over burgers and an occasional movie. Seriously, when you start dating someone, do you really want that person to look at you and say “My life is miserable and I’m looking to you to save me”? It doesn’t matter if you say it out loud – if you’re looking for someone to fill the God role in the center of your life, the desperation will ooze through your pores.
Not surprisingly, relationships like this don’t tend to go well. If one person believes that his or her entire future rests on the success of this relationship, the stakes will be very high. Problems will be overblown. The “clingy” factor will skyrocket through the roof. If the other party is halfway mature, the relationship will most likely end. If both are victims of the “misplaced center”, they’re more likely to find themselves in a very dysfunctional and unattractive spiral of break-ups, reunions, and lots and lots of drama. They’re suffering – and so is everyone around them.
Most important, attitudes like this are really a form of idolatry. St. Augustine said “our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and they will not rest until they rest in Thee.” There’s a God-shaped hole in the center of each of our hearts, and our inclination is to try to fill it with other, non-God things. Or people. And people who are not God are definitely not going to fit well in that space.
A friend of mine once told me that marriage is a constant cycle of expecting the spouse to fill the role of God, being disillusioned that the spouse is not God, putting God in the place of God and spouse in the place of spouse, and then gradually drifting back toward expecting the spouse to fill the God role.
What’s the moral of the story? If you’re in a relationship, check your attitude frequently. Are you placing this person at the very center of your life, in the spot that’s supposed to be reserved for God? That’s not going to work so well. You need to ramp up your prayer life. Spend time with God. Ask Him to take the place at the center of your heart. And then pay attention to the other aspects of the life He has given you. Use your gifts. Take on interesting projects. Be a good friend to your friends and a good family member to your family.
If you’re not in a relationship and you’d like to be, the same holds true. Put God, not your search, at the center of your life. Look to Him — and the life He’s given you — for your happiness. Don’t bank on some perfect, far-off person to make your life complete. Make it complete.
Shift your center.